43rd Annual Meeting – Joint Session: Architecture and Wooden Artifacts, May 14, "Furniture/Interiors Conservation Training in China by Gregory Landrey"

The third class of students has just been accepted into the CRAFT Program (Conservation Resources for Architectural Interiors/Furniture and Training) at the Palace Museum/Forbidden City in Beijing, co-sponsored by World Monuments Fund, the Palace Museum and Tsinghua University, where Greg Landrey worked as Conservator in Residence last fall. Landrey began his lecture by introducing the city of Beijing with a focus on the layout of the Forbidden City, in particular the Qianlong Garden (a cluster of 28 modest buildings in the northeast corner), as these interiors and their furnishings are used as teaching tools and selectively treated by the students in the program. The current student class size is approximately twelve students, and Landrey spoke through an interpreter when teaching. He also introduced the team of American conservators who have been teaching at CRAFT, and stressed that collaboration with the team was extremely important throughout the teaching process.  Chinese experts also teach courses on wood identification, furniture history, and architectural history and preservation.

Landrey showed numerous photographs of the students at work in their classroom and lab, which appeared to be a large, modern, and filled with natural light. His curriculum began with conservation ethics and theory, using the “three-legged stool” example as a teaching tool. Other subjects included the nature of wood, building hygrometers to see wood movement in action, wood technology, loss compensation, and casting. Landrey said that learning went both ways, because the students shared their knowledge of craft approaches and techniques with him throughout the semester. Treatment was also a teaching tool, with the students working as a class to document, analyze, and clean a three-part screen from the Qianlong Garden quarter of the Forbidden City. Landrey also had the students carry out drawing exercises each week to hone their drawing and observation skills, and he showed some particularly lovely examples to the audience. Field trips were taken to museums in Suzhou, as well as to the studio of a traditional lacquer artist and brocade museum with active looms.

Landrey had the students regularly read the AIC Code of Ethics as well as the Principles of Conservations of Heritage Sites in China, and expound on passages they felt were particularly meaningful to them. The student answers were shared with the audience as they were very insightful and showed how much they had learned. The goal of the program is to produce conservators to serve projects in China, and eventually the CRAFT curriculum will be entirely taught by Chinese conservators and scholars.

This talk was peppered with wonderful images and insights into Landrey’s life in Beijing, including the lively chaos of the city streets, Tai Chi being practiced by the students and staff in the morning, and the reverence the culture has for trees, which apparently made him feel a little bit more at home.